This article about software to design, is based upon my own experience as a non-professional creator of role-playing games and settings for some years.
It’s too bad that a lot of free stuff for RPGs don’t benefit of a nice design since it is easy to create something correct.
A bad design of your document will tire the reader and I think that when you share with others your creation, you want them to read it, not push it away because it is unreadable.
So I will share with you my point of view about some softwares I am using.
LibreOffice / Word
The basic one, the one a lot believe to know to use but of whom few do.
Word is great to put a lot of text and to mix writing and design in the same flow.
There is his free counterpart which is LibreOffice.
You write, you design, and you write again, it evolves more organically.
You can have something nice (background color, a big header to put your own image…) with a very friendly software. Hundreds of tutorials on online, so you will not be alone with your problems.
If you lack of time, don’t want or don’t have the time to create an elaborate design, at least pay attention to your work with Word because this software alloys you to do something good for a free product.
Publisher is a little bit like Word but less friendly. It is a light layout software which can do a lot more than Word.
You put text boxes and images where you want. Your sheets don’t have to have the same design. You easily manage and move your images and your text.
However, you will not write directly in Publisher, it would be unnatural and boring. So you need a word processor software before working your design with Publisher.
It is a good software if you want and have the time to create something more attractive.
Impress / Powerpoint
Why would I layout something with a presentation software?
Because they are fun and very powerful if you want something original and easily readable for a smartphone or a tablet.
The slide (sheet) size is small, which is perfect for smartphones and tablets, and you can easily have a PDF really friendly to read.
Of course, it is not usual, and you will also have to beforehand write your text with a word processor software. But like Publisher, you move easily your text boxes and images, so why not give it a try!
Scribus / InDesign
The last and more powerful among the layout softwares, Scribus and InDesign.
With this kind of softwares, your only limit is your imagination but at the cost of a lot of time if you work on a high-quality layout. You can do something light and simple, but is Scribus or InDesign the best choice for that?
If you tend to publish a high-quality role-playing game or fan-product about a published professional RPG, this is the kind of software you must use.
Inkscape / Illustrator
We leave the layout softwares to speak about vector-based drawing programs which are Inkscape and Illustrator.
You can create a layout with these softwares and then include it in Scribus or InDesign. But I prefer to use them to create character sheets.
A good character sheet must be a piece of art, it is the first contact your players will have with the game, the only physical proof of the world where they will play. Character sheets are really important for me, I always pay a great a attention to it.
With a vector-based drawing software, it is really easy (once you know how to use the software) to create a good character sheet. If you can’t use them, try the best you can with Word or Publisher.
You may also use them to create a map.
Gimp / Photoshop
Gimp and Photoshop are raster graphics editor, so dedicated to artistic works.
Once you have created your character sheet with Inkscape or Illustrator, you can add some effects you will only find in Gimp or Photoshop.
It is the icing on the cake, the last touch to create an excellent character sheet or map.
If you want to share your own experience, leave a reply 😉